Get the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
A group of 34 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter Friday sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., asking that the chamber’s leaders ensure legal marijuana businesses access future coronavirus-related stimulus relief.
The bipartisan group includes high profile members like Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif. The letter warns that hundreds of thousands of workers employed by legal marijuana businesses are left out of efforts to ease the pain caused by the coronavirus and the economic shutdowns meant to slow its spread just because marijuana is illegal federally.
“The COVID-19 crisis response demands the full participation of the American people, businesses and workforce. However, without relief, a very large population is left without the means to execute the required public health measures and continue to provide financially for their families,” the letter reads.
CORONAVIRUS: WHAT TO KNOW
SMALL BUSINESS LOAN PROGRAM RUNS OUT OF MONEY, NO LONGER ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS
“The COVID-19 outbreak is no time to permit federal policy to stand in the way of the reality that millions of Americans in states across the country face daily—that state-legal cannabis businesses are sources of economic growth and financial stability for thousands of workers and families, and need our support,” it continues.
The letter specifically mentions that the Small Business Administration, the agency charged with overseeing significant parts of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package lawmakers passed last month, has policies that prevent cannabis businesses from participating in its programs. That includes the popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which furnishes loans to small businesses to help them get through the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
While in most states marijuana businesses have been declared “essential” and therefore allowed to stay open during the pandemic, the lawmakers’ letter notes that because they are open they are forced to take costly precautions to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in their businesses.
“State-legal cannabis businesses need access to CARES Act programs to ensure they have the financial capacity to undertake the public health and worker-focused measures experts are urging businesses to take,” the lawmakers said. “This includes access to and participation in SBA’s loan programs—financial support that is designed to pay workers, group health care benefits, and family or sick leave.”
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who is a signatory of the letter, called for help for marijuana businesses earlier this week.
RALLIES TO REOPEN ECONOMY SPREAD ACROSS COUNTRY AS OFFICIALS URGE CAUTION TO PREVENT CORONAVIRUS RESURGENCE
“Marijuana is a legitimate, billion-dollar industry in Colorado,” she said. “Our small cannabis businesses should have the same access to SBA loans and support as any other business.”
Avis Bulbulyan, the CEO of SIVA Enterprises, a consulting group that helps cannabis businesses apply for commercial licenses, told Fox News that cannabis businesses may even be harder hit than some other companies.
“Because the cost of operation for cannabis businesses is slightly higher than for traditional businesses … it accelerates failure a lot more,” he told Fox News. “They’re going to be taking a little bit harder of a hit than any other traditional business.”
Bulbulyan also told Fox News that cannabis businesses have acted as “good corporate citizens” by offering things like curbside pickup and delivery in an effort to protect employees and customers from the coronavirus. Others have moved to “convert their operations” to make hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment (PPE), Bulbulyan said.
The coronavirus pandemic is not the first time marijuana businesses that are legal in their state have come across economic challenges due to the federal prohibition of the drug. These businesses often have trouble accessing baking services because of federal regulations that apply to banks.
In the fall the House approved a measure called the SAFE Banking Act to clarify that banks are free to do business with cannabis businesses, allowing those companies to keep money in banks, use digital payment and secure loans, among other things. The fact marijuana businesses often cannot access normal banking services forces them to deal with huge piles of cash, putting them and their employees at risk of being robbed.
But Kevin Sabet, who advised the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations on drug policy, warned that SAFE Banking Act is a corporate giveaway in sheep’s clothing.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
“It’s going to create another big tobacco and big pharma industry and it never ends well for public health,” he told Fox News. “Today’s marijuana is much more harmful than it used to be. It’s not Woodstock weed anymore.”
But lawmakers Friday said the most urgent focus of the government should be on ensuring all businesses can access federal programs meant to fight the coronavirus.
“Given the nature of the epidemic, we must ensure that everyone has the capacity to carry out the recommended public health and worker-focused measures,” the letter reads. “Without doing that, we risk undercutting the public health efforts nationwide.”
Tyler Olson covers politics for FoxNews.com. You can contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @TylerOlson1791.